This week signifies two very important things: The first day of Summer (finally!), and the Induction Ceremony for the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame (which falls on the same day). What better way to kick of the season?
I had the pleasure of attending the induction ceremony last year, and interviewed Rob Ducey, George Bell, Tim Raines, who were all being inducted into the 2013 Class. I also connected with Shirley Cheek, who was accepting the induction award on behalf of her late husband, Toronto Blue Jays’ broadcasting legend, Tom Cheek. More on that here.
This year, the festivities span several days, offering something for the whole family. The Hall of Fame is proud to announce this year’s inductees: Tim Wallach, Dave Van Horne, Murray Cook, & Jim Ridley.
The events kick-off on Thursday, July 19th with a celebrity softball game, which I’m honoured to have been invited to participate in (obviously as media, not as a celebrity!). The teams will be represented by Tim Wallach, and Hall-of-Famer Fergie Jenkins. Other celebrities include Dave Van Horne, Murray Cook, Jim Fanning, Paul Spoljaric, Billy Atkinson, many other notable former professional players, as well as representatives from Team Canada Fastball. There will also be a Slo-pitch homerun derby.
I was discussing past celebrity games with the Director of Operations of the HOF, Scott Crawford, who outlined one of his favourite memories from just a few years ago being Larry Walker hitting a homerun out over right field corner wall. Last year Tim Raines and George Bell played. This year there will be even more celebrities. This is an event you don’t want to miss!
Friday (June 20th) is possibly the busiest day of the week. The day kicks off with the 4th Annual “London Salutes Canadian Baseball” fundraising breakfast, sponsored by Lerners Lawyers and the London Convention Centre. There with be a Q & A with the celebrities, a live auction, and O’Canada by Canadian legend Michael Burgess. Also in attendance will be George Bell, Devon White, and Duane Ward.
Later that morning is the 18th Annual Celebrity Golf Classic & Sports Banquet. The list of incredible celebrities is way too long to list, but include the likes of Tom Henke, Tony Fernandez, Paul Beeston, and Babe Ruth’s Granddaughter Linda Ruth Tosetti. There is a banquet following the tournament, and tickets can be purchased separately as well.
Finally, Saturday June 21st kicks off with a Baseball Family Street Festival from 9 am to Noon, with a variety of events for kids of all ages. The induction ceremony starts at 1 pm, with a Blue Jays Honda Super Camp following, at 3 pm, where youth will get the opportunity to receive baseball instruction from Duane Ward, Devon White, and George Bell. I attended the Guelph Honda Super Camp, more on that here.
If you needed any more reasons to attend, this year is very special in that the inductees cover all facets of the game of baseball. Tim Wallach played for the Expos for the majority of his career, Dave Van Horne was an announcer for the Expos for 32 years and now covers Marlins games, Murray Cook is a Canadian who was the General Manger of the Yankees, Expos, and Reds, and Jim Ridley was a scout from 1976 – 2002. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame continues to build and expand, and is well worth the drive to St Marys.
For more information click here, or call the Hall of Fame directly at: Phone: 519-284-1838, Toll-free: 877-250-2255
At the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays State of the Franchise, season ticket holders had emailed in questions ahead of time for Paul Beeston, Alex Anthopoulos, and John Gibbons.
Full Q & A session in the video above explores topics such as the Blue Jays playing on a grass surface at home, Roy Halladay joining the Level of Excellence, the ownership’s level of financial commitment and concerns surrounding financial obligations towards other sports (Maple Leafs and Toronto FC). Other topics discussed included Gibby’s predictions for players who will have break out seasons (spoiler alert – expect a lot from Melky, Lawrie, and Morrow this season), and Anthopoulos discusses the current position on pitching and if they plan on adding more before the start of the season.
For other videos such as the introductory speeches for this event, click here.
On Wednesday, January 29th, 2014, over 1,000 Toronto Blue Jays season ticket holders attended the annual “State of the Franchise” event at Rogers Centre. Guests were treated to a coctail party, complimentary food from the concession stands, and adult beverages from the bar. Following introductions of Paul Beeston, Alex Anthopoulos, and John Gibbons, Buck Martinez, the emcee for the evening directed everyone’s attention to the Jumbotron for the following Blue Jays 2013 highlight video:
Prior to the Q & A period, Beeston addressed the crowd, acknowledging the disappointing season of 2013:
Last year wasn’t what we wanted it to be. We got knocked down a bit. We hit the mat, and when you do, you can do one of two things. You can either stay down, or you can get back up and fight for another day. And that’s what we plan on doing. We don’t plan on just staying on the mat, we’re going to get up and do what we wanted to do, which is win the World Series…Last year’s team was not built for just one year.
Watch the full speech from Paul Beeston:
Next, attendees were treated to a video highlighting the Blue Jays Winter Tour. I attended the Mississauga event, hosted by the Erin Mills Town Centre. Click here to read about that event.
Watch the Winter Tour highlight video:
Q & A Session:
Buck began by asking Alex about the contrast between the busy off-season last year, and the relatively quiet one this year. Alex said he’s hopeful they will add to the ballclub, and that there are still some great quality free agents available. He went on to say that they’re still having active dialogues, and still discussing trades as well. “We’re definitely not done trying to add, we’re going to look to add, we just need to find the right deal”. Alex went on to say he felt like they may even add players into spring training.
Watch the full video of Alex discussing plans moving into the 2014 season:
Next, Buck addressed Gibby, asking him how he would conduct spring training this year, implying the approach may be different since 2013 was a World Baseball Classic year where some key players missed significant time with the ball club. Gibby, in his typical ultra-relaxed style, first replied with a good-natured ”Duck Dynasty” joke, aimed at Colby Rasmus. Once the laughter had died down, he reassured fans that this is a good ball club and to stick by them. He suggested that some “minor tinkering” might be necessary, but the real mission would be to get off to a good start early this year. One month into the 2013 season the Jays occupied the basement already 7 games under .500, and 8.5 games behind the first-place Red Sox.
Watch the full video of Gibby discussing spring training plans:
The standard (and expected) questions surrounding financial commitments and trade rumours followed. I’m actually surprised that there was no mention of Tanaka (other than the brief reference by Anthopoulos when he suggested that it had held up the free agent market action). While I never actually expected Toronto to have a legitimate shot at the Japanese super-star, it would have been interesting to know if they were ever “in the running”. Not that I’d ever expect Anthopoulos to say so either way. The man plays his cards close to his chest. Let’s hope he’s got an ace up his sleeve. The Jays could use a little help in this increasingly-stacked division this season. Then again, that’s the beauty of baseball. The mystique of the unknown. The Morrow of old could return and blow the roof off. I remain hopeful that at least one of either McGowan, Drabek, or Hutchison will be back to make an impact. Young studs like Sean Nolin and Marcus Stroman, albeit both dark-horses, could perform above expectations and either could make the rotation as a 5th starter. Yes it’s unlikely, but who predicted Happ would pitch like he did last season? While fans still have the bitter taste in their mouths from a high-expectation filled season gone bad, let’s not forget that for a time in 2013, the Jays bullpen was one of the most dominant in baseball, and played a significant role in the 11-game win streak they enjoyed in June. Thinking about that puts a smile on my face, how about you?
For the full video with Q & A from season ticket holders, click here.
In the winter this off-season, Anthopoulos gave Jays fans something to get excited about. A lot to get excited about. Having made substantial moves that “won the off-season”, the Jays were picked by many to not only make the playoffs, but also win the 2013 World Series. That’s no small feat, considering only three teams in history have won the World Series having not made the playoffs the previous season (’88 Dodgers, ’87 & ’91 Twins, ’02 Angels). (EDIT: a couple fans on Reddit notified me I had forgotten the ’10 & ’12 Giants. My bad!) In fact, such a buzz was created by the media and Jays marketing campaign, that pre-season ticket sales “increased dramatically” according to team president Paul Beeston.
Besides, teams like Boston seemed to be in trouble with their managerial situation a question mark. And when they ended up taking Farrell, the Toronto attitude was “if he doesn’t want to be here then take him, we don’t want him”. The Yankees picked up old Blue Jays castaways Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay to compensate for their injury-ridden line-up (Jays fans quietly chuckled, knowing all to well what a string of injuries can do to a ball club).
Fast forward a few months and a near worst April on team record, and the Jays find themselves in the last place everyone expected – last place.
Boston, New York, and Baltimore all currently have .600 or better records.
Boston and New York.
The Miami Marlins, who gave up most of their veteran talent to the Jays in the most talked about trade this off-season, currently have a 10-25 record (compared to the Jays 13-23). Even the Houston Astros (the joke of the majors this season), have a 10-25 record.
To say Toronto is grossly under-performing is a massive understatement.
Which poses the question, “How the heck did this all happen?”
It’s a complex answer. But to put it simply; a series of injuries and slumps:
- Jose Reyes Ankle Injury – A total spark plug. The energy and life force of the squad was leading the team in avg (.395) and stolen bases (5) early in the season until the severe ankle sprain put him out of commission until the All-star break.
- Quiet Jays Bats – I don’t need to go into great detail here. Simply put, they didn’t produce runs. Period. If you want to depress yourself further, you can check out JaysJournal.com to see how many “league worsts” the Jays set in April.
- Mediocre Pitching – This came as a surprise to many, as the Jays went out and “traded the farm” for some veteran arms. Then the only pitcher who proved to be reliable was the guy who wasn’t even supposed to make the starting rotation in the first place (JA Happ).
- The Inability to Win Consistently – This might seem obvious, but the ability to string together a series of wins, or win a large percentage of games in chunks somewhat consistently will build confidence amongst players and assist the team in building momentum to generate winning streaks. Just recently, the Jays won their third game in a row this season – for the first time.
- More Devastating Injuries – We don’t need to re-hash the horrible onslaught of injuries the Jays had last year. But it would appear as though that nasty injury bug has reared its ugly head again. Suddenly Josh Johnson is out with what was reported as “mild bicep/tricep” tightness. He won’t be back until June. Romero was brought up to take his place (likely too soon) and now his mental toughness is being questioned, having pitched the shortest outing of his career recently (1/3 inning). JA Happ got hit by the most devastating line drive I’ve ever seen: Happ miraculously only suffered a fractured skull (really, it could have been far worse) and twisted knee, and will be out 4-6 weeks. RA Dickey has been battling upper back tightness which has been limiting his outing duration. Morrow’s Friday night start was pushed back due to back spasms. The lack of health in the starting rotation could be the major blow to any playoff hopes that are still alive.
So, is it time to panic if you’re a Jays fan? Or did that already happen a while ago and you’ve already given up?
Some don’t think that it was even fair in the first place that the Jays were put up on such a high pedestal. ESPN’s Dan Shulman was a guest on The Dugout recently, and told me who he thought would be playoff favourites: Dan Shulman on The Dugout
Even though the odds are heavily stacked against them, they might not be counted out entirely. In spring training there were many comparisons made to the 1993 World Champion Jays, but April Whitzman from the MLB Fan Cave made a comparison to the 1989 Blue Jays, who at this point in their season (May 10th) had a nearly identical record (12-21). They went on to win their division that season.
Surely Boston and New York can’t keep up the pace they’re going at. Baltimore may in fact be the team to be reckoned with. At least they seem to be the healthiest.
So what do you think?
Were the Jays over-hyped from the beginning?
Are they going to disappoint the (larger) fan base again?
Or will they manage to get everything functioning together and become THE comeback story of the century?